Joseph Mallord William Turner

Caernarvon Castle


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on pine
Support: 152 × 232 mm
frame: 210 × 290 × 40 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

Turner visited thirteenth-century Caernarvon in North Wales in 1798, and made lively colour studies in his Academical sketchbook (Tate). This oil sketch was an intermediate step towards a large watercolour version which he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1799. As a young man Turner is said to have wept when he saw a seaport painted by Claude Lorrain ‘because I shall never be able to paint anything like that picture’. However, the Claudean model of a central sun over water flanked by buildings and shipping served him well in numerous paintings of classical history and myth.

Gallery label, February 2010

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Catalogue entry

28. [N01867] Caernarvon Castle c. 1798

Pine, 5 15/16 × 9 1/16 (15·1 × 23); a bevelled edge along the bottom leaves a painted surface of 5 13/16 ×9 1/16 (14·8 × 23)

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1905.

Exh. Welsh Landscape in British Art Arts Council Welsh tour, August 1947–February 1948 (40); Cardiff 1951; Brighton 1957 (33); Swansea 1964 (154); R.A. 1974–5 (45); Llandudno and Swansea 1984 (63, repr.).

Lit. Gage 1969, pp. 29–30, colour pl. 6; Wilton 1979, p. 57; Kitson 1983, pp. 5, 15 n.24; Andrew Wilton, ‘La technique de l'aquarelle chez Turner’, exh. cat. Paris 1983–4, pp. 156–8, fig. 19.

A watercolour of the same view is in the ‘Academical’ sketchbook (Turner Bequest XLIII-39 verso, repr. in colour Gage, op.cit., pl. 5; for rather more accurate colour reproductions of three of the other related sketches of Caernarvon Castle in the same sketchbook, XLIII-42 verso, 43 verso and 44 verso, see Wilkinson 1972, pp. 82–3). This was used for the large finished watercolour Caernarvon Castle exhibited at the R.A. in 1799 (340). There are similar views of Caernarvon Castle in pencil in the ‘Lancashire and North Wales’ sketchbook (XLV-24 verso, 25 verso and 26 verso; 24 verso and 26 verso are repr. Wilkinson, op. cit., p. 86); these were dated c. 1799 by Finberg but should probably be dated, like the watercolour sketches and this oil painting, to 1798, the year before the finished watercolour was exhibited (see Wilton 1979, pp. 56–7, the exhibited watercolour colour pl. 47).

Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984

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